Tag Reviews

Find reviews of literary magazines, stories, poems, essays, and books from independent publishers and university presses on the NewPages Blog.

“Transcendence: A Schematic” by Alyssa Quinn

Meridian - Summer 2019Magazine Review by Shaun Anderson

Alyssa Quinn’s “Transcendence: A Schematic”—Meridian Editors’ Prize 2019 winner—explores her efforts to process the loss of her brother. Weaving together a pilgrimage to Walden Pond, her memories of her brother, and her own beliefs and doubts, Quinn probes the hollowed out spaces, searching for a truth she can hold in the absence of her brother.

The exploration of emptiness leads Quinn to consider the places others turn to for truth. She explores science, religion, and maps, searching for a space where she can find her brother. Even in form, Quinn demonstrates absence as she creates a schematic, seeking answers from figures that do not exist. As Quinn tries to present an answer to her questions about death, transcendence, and reality she can only state with absolute uncertainty, “Perhaps the center is just as elusive as the beyond; matter as problematic as spirit.” In death, Quinn’s brother has shattered Quinn’s understanding of reality.

While the essay pulses with the agony of living in an emptied reality, Quinn recognizes that even her writing has been reformed by the loss of her brother. Quinn must confront the fact that “Syntax cannot convey true absence—say ‘I miss him’ and there he is again—there is no language for loss, for such awful missing.” Her work plunges into the loss of her brother, and emerges with the knowledge that Quinn must create a space to hold her brother within her own words.

 

About the reviewer: Shaun Anderson is a creative writing student at Utah State University.

“Dream Logic: The Art of Ten Contemporary Surrealists” by Kristine Somerville

Missouri Review - Fall 2019

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

The Fall 2019 issue of the Missouri Review invites readers to wander away from the ordinary into a world that’s a little bit “off” in its feature. In “Dream Logic: The Art of Ten Contemporary Surrealists,”Kristine Somerville offers a brief history of the surrealist art movement.

While we learn the history, we also see full-color images of surreal artwork, including embroidered mixed media images by Robin McCarthy, clay sculptures by Ronit Baranga, collages by Rodriguez Calero, and more. Indeed, these all carry dreamlike qualities as they challenge our expectations. Each piece grabs the eye and forces it to take in new, creative perspectives. Baranga’s work features grotesque human features emerging from delicate teacups. Gensis Belanger’s work seems to showcase the ordinary until you blink and realize a stool is supported by four large cigarettes instead of regular legs, and the foot inside the sandal that rests on the stool is actually a hot dog. Whimsy and dream logic reign in this feature. The provided history grounds us, though, giving a clear lens through which we can examine the art.

Somerville closes with the reminder, “surrealism provides an outlet for creativity and spontaneity and an escape from the tyranny of the real.” Allow yourself to escape for a moment and wander into the dreams of the surreal artists found in the Fall 2019 issue.

Why Book Reviewing Isn’t Going Anywhere

Inside-the-Critics-Circle.jpgA researcher explores the future of a changing practice By Scott Nover, The American Scholar.

Now an assistant professor of sociology at McMaster University in Ontario, Chong researches how fiction book reviews come to fruition, trying to solve the puzzle of why some books get reviewed and why so many more are ignored. Her new book, Inside the Critics’ Circle: Book Reviewing in Uncertain Times makes the case for the persistence of old-guard professional criticism even in the Internet age.

…It’s a really good question. No one said they were giving good reviews to really bad books, or bad reviews to really good books. It’s more a matter of degree: how much am I going to gush about a book I loved before I worry about sounding stupid and pull back, or how much am I really going to tear into a book before I worry about potential fallout and pull back. And those aren’t just questions about honesty or authenticity, it’s also about what’s the right professional tone to strike when producing cultural journalism.

Two Poems by Bill Snyder

Weber - Fall 2019Magazine Review by Katy Haas

The Fall 2019 issue of Weber includes two poems by Bill Snyder: “Redundancy” and “Home.”

Snyder travels through time in these poems. In “Home,” he brings us to 1972 as he hitchhikes to his father’s house in Florida to surprise him with his arrival, and in “Redundancy,” he brings us to 1995 while he plays Scrabble with his mother.

Snyder writes with clarity, each poem rich with description that never bogs the message down. Each feels like a tiny short story, grabbing readers and pulling them into the scene. We are sitting at the table with his mother, “sunlight seeping in.” We are standing on the side of the road waiting in the humid air for a car to stop, “the sun behind a Burger King, Kentucky Fried, / all the rest.”

These poems are a pleasure to read, an intimate gaze at the familial bonds of Snyder’s speaker.

Ruminate – Winter 2019/20

Ruminate - Winter 2019/2020Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Each issue of Ruminate opens with “Readers’ Notes,” a response from a variety of readers/writers on the issue’s theme. This is one of my favorite parts of the issue—the little snippets of connection. The Winter 2019/20 theme is “Shelter,” and thirteen readers write in with their thoughts on the subject.

It’s interesting to see the variety of approaches writers take as they cover this topic. A few speak of physical structures that offer shelter. Benjamin Malay writes of an abandoned farmhouse found while hitchhiking; Duane L. Herrmann’s shelter is a screened-in porch during childhood; and Sharon Esterly writes of a DIY Cold War bomb shelter. Moving away from man-made structures, Rebecca Martin observes a child’s own body being their shelter; Liz Degregorio’s shelter is “the kindest lie” her father could tell her as a child; and Sarah Swandell’s shelter is a womb.

Each of these pieces is short and succinct. All grab attention and hold fast as readers unfold the layers that reveal the shelter within. The Readers’ Notes section serves as a great opener for Ruminate, both as a warm-up for the rest of the issue, and as a way to jog one’s own creativity, prompting consideration on how we too might briefly write on the given topic.

‘We Are Meant to Carry Water’ by Carlson, Reed, and Dibella Seluja

We Are Meant to Carry Water

Guest Post by Kimberly Ann Priest

“Are we only bone, skin, and urge?” asks the speaker in The Great Square That Has No Corners. I am beginning to wonder if the answer to that question is affirmative. Yes. As I write this, I am sitting in my living room on a Tuesday afternoon in October, mid-way through another semester teaching, and realizing that, this autumn, I have over-committed myself . . . again.

As projects begin to pile up and my network grows, while responsibilities increase and my own poetry demands that I give it more of my attention, I have to let some things go. After four years reading and writing about new works by various authors and publishers, this will be my last review for NewPages. It’s time, once again, to listen to my body and check my urges. And, how fitting that I should end my review history with a review of a collaborative manuscript by three clearly very talented women who have written an elegant collection of poems on assaulted womanhood—a topic that continually shows up in my own work. Drawing from mythology, Tina Carlson, Stella Reed, and Katherine Dibella Seluja have woven a modern (though not modernized) conversation between Helen, Leda, and Lilith, and they have done so with such precision, such tastefulness, such raw beauty. Continue reading “‘We Are Meant to Carry Water’ by Carlson, Reed, and Dibella Seluja”

‘Night Sky with Exit Wounds’ by Ocean Vuong

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean VuongGuest Post by Andrew Romriell

Ocean Vuong’s collection of poetry, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, is a masterpiece that illustrates the most vital and sincere hardships of humanity in astonishingly few words. Leaping from free-verse to prose poetry, from stringent format to broken syntax, Vuong fashions here a collection of inclusion.

We open on “Threshold,” a poem where Vuong introduces his themes of body, parenthood, sexuality, and history. He warns us from the very beginning that “the cost of entering a song—was to lose your way back.” Vuong asks us to enter into his words and lose ourselves there. And we do, poem after poem, until we close on Vuong’s book with the penultimate piece, “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong.” In this poem, we read an assumed message from Vuong to Vuong where he tells himself “don’t be afraid,” and to “get up,” and that the most beautiful part of his body “is where it’s headed.” Before this, we’ve read pages of poetry full of pain, fear, and shattering, but here, Vuong embraces himself—and us alongside him.

“Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” like all the poems in Night Sky with Exit Wounds, rings with pain, wonder, regret, and history. Yet, there is also hope here, and I would say this is the theme of Vuong’s work: hope, inclusion, and change. Vuong takes us through a journey, shatters our expectations, holds our hearts, tells us to get up, and that, like him, we can survive the voyage.


Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. Copper Canyon Press, April 2016.

About the reviewer: Andrew Romriell is a creative writing student at Utah State University.

‘Out of Speech’ by Adam Vines

Out of Speech by Adam VinesGuest Post by Adrian Thomson

Adam Vines’s Out of Speech, a poetry collection comprised of ekphrastic poetry based upon famous paintings as well as personal experience, draws on Vines’s travels from southernmost Argentina to the Louvre. Each poem begins by naming the art piece it takes as a subject, then moves toward unpacking their visual elements often through fascinating uses of enjambment.

More than just describing the artwork, Vines peels away surfaces to encounter shavings of shocking humanity lying beneath. In “My View From Here,” a poem responding to Yves Tanguy’s Les Vues, Vines sees an abstract red vista of segmented alien pillars the cancer polyps hidden in a barstool acquaintance he meets by chance outside the gallery. “Holes and Folds,” based on the group portrait The Swing by Jean Honoré Fragonard, finds a narrator focused on the most innocent of the lounging young men in order to question his objectives as a hand slides up a woman’s dress.

Vines’s visual inspection of minutiae leaves his reader questioning the subjects presented in the paintings. Will the awoken businessman in Hopper’s Excursion Into Philosophy leave before his lover stirs? What has made his countenance so dour? What of the open book forgotten on the bed? Is his shoe slipping into, or out of the light? The reader feels unsure even after turning away, and Vines leaves them contemplating in silence.


Out of Speech by Adam Vines. LSU Press, March 2018.

About the reviewer: Adrian Thomson is a creative writing student at Utah State University.

Divine Medicine: A Natural History of Beer

Natural-History-of-Beer.jpgIn the beginning was beer. Well, not quite at the beginning: there was no beer at the Big Bang. Curiously, though, as Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall point out in A Natural History of Beer, the main components of beer—ethanol and water—are found in the vast clouds swirling around the center of the Milky Way in sufficient quantity to produce 100 octillion liters of the stuff…

In America, where there was no such tradition, the movement was more heterogenous. It has found its public, though: by now there are 5,000 craft brewers in the United States producing 20,000 brands of beer. It is one of the bright spots in America’s otherwise dismal recent history.